Crossing The Line


Unions in Canada have reasonable and legitimate rights that are included in their protection of the members they represent. These members are, at the same time, employees of a business that also has reasonable and legitimate rights as an employer.

When these rights collide with each other potentially dangerous and harmful conflicts can appear.

A recent decision by Unifor to post an online video identifying replacement workers (who crossed a picket line in order to work for an employer during legitimate strike action) provides us with a strong example of this type of harmful conflict. In the video, Unifor identifies each of the replacement workers visually, and by name, and labels them ‘scabs’.

Click here to read about Unifor’s actions and to view the video embedded in the article.

The union is clear about its rights-based rationale for proceeding with this type of ‘naming and shaming’ approach. As noted in the article and in other media responses, however, the video has not been received well by the public or by other union members. The posting of this video raises concerns about the potential for bullying that each of the identified individuals now faces. To make matters worse, visible identifiers such as race and gender may make these people more easily identifiable in a small community. Each person may be subject to increased targeting and potential harassment as a result.

In cases like this, eventual resolutions may well deal with the workplace issues identified in the terms and conditions of employment of the workers represented by the union. It is doubtful, however, that such resolutions will provide a positive conclusion for those who have been outed or harmed along the way.


Discussion Questions:

  1. If you were a member of Unifor, what would your reaction be to the ‘naming and shaming’ video?
  2. Under what circumstances would you cross a picket line?
  3. Do you think the hiring of replacement workers during a strike should be banned in all provinces? Explain your rationale.


Labour dispute kept CNE customers away

The Canadian National Exhibition was marred by a labour dispute this year.

This year’s edition of the annual end-of-summer celebration saw the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) union members walk the picket line at the front gates of the CNE.

Strikes are always disruptive and potentially costly events. It was predicted that the CNE may have lost up to $1.5 million in tickets sales as many regular customers didn’t want to cross the picket line.

Now here is the very interesting part about the strike. It directly affected the CNE, but the striking workers are not CNE employees. The IATSE union members work for Exhibition Place, the location where the CNE is held.  The IATSE members are concerned that their jobs are being contracted out to private companies and their union members are going to lose their jobs. The CNE is not a party to the labour dispute, yet they were caught in the middle of it.

This particular strike makes the HR person reflect and think about how important it is to understand the labour laws where your company works.  Your organization may not be unionized, but union disputes may have an impact on your business.

Discussion questions:

In these articles it is suggested that the CNE hired outside workers to come into the CNE and set up the stages. Review your provincial Labour Relations Act and determine if it is legal for an employer whose workers are on strike to hire replacement workers.

  • Why is the issue of contracting out work such a contentious issue in most labour relation negotiations?
  • In this case, did the CNE have any legal right to prevent the IATSE union members from picketing the CNE?

Picket-line Protocols & Problems


As we have learned from our labour relations studies, when workers represented by a union go on strike, they have a legitimate right to picket the workplace where the strike is taking place. Peaceful picketing is part of every Canadian’s right to freedom of expression, as enshrined in Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Section 2). When a union in Canada goes on strike, there is a clear expectation that its workers will ‘walk the line’ in order to ensure that this right is upheld.

Picketing takes place, typically, at designated locations bordering or outside of the employer’s property. Workers may be scheduled in shifts to walk back-and-forth on the boundaries of the property and/or across the entrances. They may carry signs and delay entry, for a reasonable amount of time, to others coming on to the premises or to the employer’s property. They may communicate information about the strike to individuals entering the worksite. These are lawful activities.

At the same time, individuals (including members of the public at large) continue to have the right to enter into the employer’s premises, if they choose to do so, without fear of intimidation, coercion, obstruction, or violence.

Click here for a brief outline of lawful rights for both workers and the public, as provided by the Peel Regional Police force.

What happens when the implementation of the rights of workers and the public collide? Picket-line problems.

Click here for video/news commentary on picket-line altercations at York University.

When individuals perceive that their basic rights are being restricted, we often see a quick escalation of frustrations that can have drastic and unfortunate results for everyone involved. While situations can be difficult to understand, and challenging, especially when tempers flare due to perceived restrictions or inconveniences, we must ensure that the freedoms we all enjoy through our collective rights continue to be upheld — peacefully.


Discussion Questions:

  1. In your opinion, who has the ‘greater’ right on a picket-line? The workers/union or the public? Explain your rationale.
  2. As a labour-relations officer for an organization whose employees are on strike, what measures would you put into place to ensure that striking workers are safe on a picket line?
  3. From the perspective of the employer with a union on strike, prepare a script that explains picket-line protocols to members of the public.

Testing Times

Ball LunLa/Shutterstock

In the spring of 2017, the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) was finally successful in implementing random drug and alcohol testing for its employees. This initiative came into play as a result of a six year process of protracted labour relations and legal wrangling over the implementation of a fitness for duty policy that seeks to improve workplace safety.

Click here to read the court’s approval for testing as announced by the TTC.

It is not surprising that the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113, or any union, would be opposed to the implementation of random drug and/or alcohol testing in the workplace. In Canada, as employees, we generally enjoy a certain level of personal privacy and restrictions on potentially invasive procedures in the workplace. Any worker would expect to have these restrictions and rights reinforced by their union that fought hard and won these work related rights years ago.

In this case, however, the potential safety rights of the public seem to have provided a tipping point that moved this case out of the courts and into the public domain. Once implemented, the TTC’s drug and alcohol testing program provided immediate results. On the first day of random testing, two workers were found to be impaired and on the job, which would seem to justify the need for the program from the perspective of customer and public safety. As the program has continued, the findings of employees testing positive for drug and/or alcohol use have also continued. Most recently, a vehicle operator failed the drug test, raising the safety concerns again for both the workplace and for the public who find themselves potentially at risk as a result of an individual’s alleged actions.

Click here to read and see news coverage on the TTC vehicle operator who failed the drug test.

The process that is described in the media focuses on the key messages of employee disciplinary action in order to ensure public safety. Of course, as members of the public, we need to be assured that no-one is put in harm’s way when using public transit.

As Human Resources practitioners, however, we know that these matters are not so simple. In this puzzle over whose rights must be protected, where does the duty to accommodate come into play? Does the need to ensure public safety override the employer’s obligations under the human rights code? Does a failed drug test mean the end of employment for any employee?

Each of these questions needs a thoughtful response from a Human Resources perspective. Hopefully, you will have had lots of time to think about them the next time you exit safely from that bus.

Discussion Questions:

  1. From an HR perspective, what issues come to mind for you as you read and watch the news articles linked to drug testing at the TTC?
  2. Are these issues different from your perspective as a customer of public transit?
  3. If you worked at the TTC as an HR practitioner and were selected to be tested for drug and alcohol use, how would you respond?



What’s in a Name?

Disputes often arise from good intentions gone wrong.

Source: Paul Lemon/Shutterstock
Source: Paul Lemon/Shutterstock

In a recent case, the Prairie North Health Region (PNHR) tried to amend its practice for employees wearing name tags.   The change was to have the full name (first and last), job title, and picture of the employee on an identity badge, rather than just the employee’s first name.  As noted in the article, the purpose of implementing this change came as a result of the employer wanting to promote a patient first philosophy and to equalize the balance of power between patient and health care provider.

Click Here to Read the Article.

The union representing the workers, CUPE Local 5111, disagreed and filed a grievance in order to stop this change in practice.  The grievance, as noted in the article was based on several grounds, with the allegation of violation of employee privacy as the primary concern. The matter was not resolved internally.  As a result, the dispute went to arbitration for a final resolution imposed by a three-party panel of arbitrators.

The arbitrators’ decision fell on the side of the union.  The employer had to rescind the new policy and had to implement new cards showing only employee first names, job titles along with a photo.

Click Here to Read the Case.

As you will note, this case is extensive.  It shows the amount of critical detail, witnesses, testimony, legislative impact, evidence of past practice and presentation of other precedent setting cases required in order for this matter to be resolved through a board of arbitration.  It was definitely a costly exercise for everyone involved.

Clearly, our names and our right to protect our own personal privacy has value.

One wonders, however, how much the value of good intentions truly cost all of the parties in this case.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Who would benefit from employees wearing name tags with first and last name?
  2. Why do employees, in this case, have a ‘greater’ right to privacy than patients?
  3. What elements of this case would prevent it from being resolved within the applicable grievance resolution process?
  4. Why, do you think, a case like this would proceed to arbitration?
  5. What lessons would you take from your reading of this case?